Introducing the South Skunk River Watershed Project

October 29, 2019 4:48 PM

The South Skunk River Watershed Project celebrates its one-year anniversary in October. This project is a partnership between Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) to further Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals.

Iowa State Extension Watershed Specialist, Doug Gass, has led the South Skunk Project since its beginning. He is using Water Quality Initiative funds to provide cost-share and technical assistance for farmers installing edge-of-field nutrient management practices such as saturated buffers and bioreactors. A minimum of 75% cost-share is offered for installing these practices.

“We are meeting with landowners and figuring out what practices best fit on their field to address their nutrient loss concerns… getting started and enrolled can be very time consuming, so we act as a point of contact for the landowner to guide them through the process,” Gass said.

Surveyers assessing a site for a saturated riparian buffer
Surveying a site for a saturated riparian buffer in the South Skunk River Watershed.

Gass has found that practice cost is the biggest roadblock to implementing these practices.

“Without cost-share, this project would be incredibly difficult”, Gass said.

Cost-share through WQI makes more financial sense and motivates farmers to consider new nutrient management practices.

The two main practices promoted through the South Skunk River Watershed Project are saturated buffers and denitrifying bioreactors. These practices can reduce nitrate flowing into waterways by about 50% by harnessing natural biological processes to convert nitrate in water to nitrogen gas. Saturated buffers do this through use of carbon in the soil organic matter and soil microbes while bioreactors use the carbon in woodchips and naturally occurring microbes to facilitate the denitrification process.

“Edge-of-Field practices are effective because they can be tucked in at the edge of fields and don’t require landowners to take much, if any, cropland from production,” Gass said.

Gass will continue to meet with local farmers and landowners in the South Skunk Watershed after harvest is complete.  Extension staff in Boone, Story, and Hamilton counties are encouraged to reach out to Gass at or (515) 294-7148 to discuss water quality programming opportunities.


Doug Gass Extension Program Specialist II

Doug Gass is the coordinator for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s South Skunk River Watershed Project. He collaborates directly with farmers and landowners to implement nutrient management practices on cropland in the South Skunk River watershed. Doug is working hard to help Iowa ...